26 October 13, 2010

As we wind down the planting season, it is important to do a thorough clean up of our gardens. This is probably one of the most boring parts of gardening, but it is also one of the most important things you need to do in your gardens.

During the growing season, plants in your gardens can be exposed to all kinds of problems. If you remember back to 2009, we had lots of problems with fungus diseases attacking our plants. As the season went on, plant leaves died and fell to the ground. In the late summer, many gardeners who had major fungus problems in the gardens just left the plants and gave up gardening for the season. The fungus diseases ran out of healthy leaves to feed on and eventually the fungus diseases died back. Fungus diseases never die and just go away. Most of the time the fungus diseases form spores as the disease dies off. You should think of spores as the eggs for the disease. As the fall turns into winter, the spores settle onto the old plant parts and will in many cases fall onto the ground. In the spring, gardeners clean up their gardens and plant again. As the spring rains come, the spores that have been on the ground or any spores that fell onto the ground as you pulled up the plants, splash up onto the plants as the rain hits the ground. The spores” hatch” and the plant diseases begin raising havoc for another season. This is why it is so important to get that old plant debris out of the garden.

It is not only fungus diseases that can over-winter on debris in your garden. Many insects will spend the winter on plant debris. Come the spring, they find a new home in your garden.

If you have a compost pile that heats up enough to kill the plant diseases, you can place the plant debris in the compost pile. However, if you just toss the plants onto a pile, allowing Mother Nature to eventually rot the plants away, it is best to not throw the diseased plants onto that type of compost pile. Diseased plants that cannot have the spores destroyed by the heat of the compost pile before the spring growing season should be disposed of in the trash. Similarly, plant debris that may harbor insects or their eggs can be put into the compost pile if the pile heats up enough to destroy the insect and their eggs. To help to speed up this process, you can add a compost activator to the compost pile. This product helps to speed up the composting process and helps to create the heat needed to destroy spores and insects.

Once all of the debris is out of the gardens, you should work some lime into the soil. By applying lime in the fall, the lime has time to rid the soil of any acidity before the spring planting season begins.

If we could count on a heavy snowfall as soon as the ground is cleared, the next step probably would not be necessary. Once the gardens are cleared, the wind can blow away some of your topsoil. As you know, our area is known for its windy weather. A winter without adequate snow can allow the wind to blow away a lot of your topsoil.  You can protect your soil from the wind by applying a cover crop. As the name implies, this is a crop that you plant after the garden is cleared up in the fall. This crop “covers” the soil and protects the soil from wind damage. The most commonly used fall cover crop is winter rye. Winter rye comes as a seed that is sown over the garden. Even with cooling temperatures, the winter rye will soon sprout and form a green mat of “grass” that will anchor your soil in place. Come the spring, you turn the winter rye back into the soil. As the winter rye is turned back into the soil, it turns into compost that enriches your soil. We have winter rye seed in our store.

Cleaning up the gardens is probably one of the most boring parts of gardening, yet it is so important for the future health of your gardens.

Well, that’s all for this week. I’ll talk to you again next week.

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